From 80s beauty icon Bo Derek to current basketball sensation Allen Iverson, tight braids, also known as cornrows and weaves, have been fashionable in the U.S. for decades. For years it was a common site to see legions of women disembarking from beach vacation flights sporting the tight braids, and many sports figures continue to wear elaborate braided styles to this day. Some say it’s bad for your hair. But can it really cause permanent hair loss?
Yes, tight braiding and weaves—even tight buns and ponytails—when worn over long periods of time can cause irreversible hair loss, called traction alopecia (baldness). This is because chronic pulling of the hair causes too much tension and traction on the follicles, causing them to permanently dislodge from the scalp.
In most tight weave braiding styles, the damage manifests along the front portion of the scalp, where the hair meets the forehead.
Elaborate braiding and weaves tend to be expensive and time-consuming to create, and as a result women and men tend to keep the styles for extended periods, increasing the likelihood of permanent damage. Ironically the costly styles can end up costing you your hair.
According to a study on traction alopecia at Johns Hopkins, “An estimated one-third of African-American women suffer from traction alopecia, making it the most common form of hair loss among that group.” The problem is compounded by the use of chemical straighteners and heat, which damage the hair shaft and causes breakage.
Furthermore, extensions can be damaging if they are affixed with adhesive glue to the scalp, and weight from extensions pulling on a person’s hair follicles can also cause them to rip out by the root. Model Naomi Campbell wore extensions for years, and now appears to be suffering from traction alopecia.
It will not damage your hair to wear tight braids, weaves, or hair extensions for a special occasion. The tension must be exerted over a long period of time to result in permanent hair loss.
In many instances traction alopecia can be successfully treated with a hair transplant, whereby healthy hair follicles are moved from one part of the scalp to the damaged area.